Maroons Second in National Championship!

by minton on February 12, 2023

The Roanoke College team of James Rowe, Selam Mekonnen, and Cyrus Pace earned second place at the National Collegiate Sports Analytics Championship in Dallas, Texas, on February 1-2! Syracuse University won the team championship and Jacob Kauffman of Rice University won the individual national championship. The event was organized by Baylor University and hosted by the Dallas Mavericks.

None of the above paragraph is inaccurate, but it could be misleading. If you follow the weather, you may remember that Dallas was shut down February 1-2 by a winter storm. Reluctantly, the RC group cancelled our flight and stayed home. With travel to Dallas shut down, the organizers shifted to a remote event. Although the Roanoke team finished second, the competition was entirely individual work analyzing a massive basketball data set. Team standings were compiled by average scores of schools with three or more competitors.

All four of Roanoke’s original team members can claim “Sweet Sixteen” status. In the qualifying round held in November, James Rowe placed 14th and Lilly Blair 16th. Lilly was unable to be in the finals because of commitments with her women’s lacrosse team. In the finals “in Dallas” contestants were seeded into seven groups, with the top two in each group advancing to round two. Selam and Cyrus gave excellent presentations to advance to the second round, while James was a close third in a highly competitive group. These are great results!

Each competitor was given five hours to take a large spreadsheet of play-by-play basketball data, isolate a team or player or type of play, distill the data into a small number of insights, and highlight those insights in a five-minute PowerPoint presentation. Cyrus, for example, pulled all plays involving Jaxson Hayes and identified strengths (e.g., pick and rolls, plays designed for him after time outs) and weaknesses (e.g., shooting from the left side of the court). After giving their presentations, they answered questions from a panel of judges drawn from professional sports teams around the country. The judges rated presentations in a variety of categories such as use of statistics, graphics, clarity of results, and responses to questions.

The biggest casualty from the winter storm was the loss of unstructured networking time with the judges, who would have been in recruiting mode. All three RC competitors have an interest in pursuing careers in sports. James and Cyrus have interned with the Roanoke RailYard Dawgs hockey team, and Selam has worked with Stat Crew. Despite being limited to zoom discussions, useful connections were made and the team gained valuable experience in the sports analytics field. However, it’s too bad that our Tex-Mex dinner wasn’t in Texas!

Congratulations to James, Selam, and Cyrus for their outstanding performance and representation of Roanoke College!